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  • Tumults of Utopia Repetition and Revolution in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy
  • K. Daniel Cho (bio)

There could be no better way to describe the world of Kim Stanley Robinson’s epic story of Mars’s colonization, the Mars trilogy, than Marx and Engels’s famous line on modernity, “All that is solid melts into air” (1978b, 476). The mission to Mars begins with the intention of appropriating the planet’s natural resources to feed a futuristic system of capitalism, which Robinson first describes as transnational and later as metanational. But while still aboard the spaceship Ares, the first expeditionary team, nicknamed the First Hundred, eschew their United Nations charter in order to turn their mission into an opportunity to reenvision what life itself is or can be. A singular vision, however, does not exist, and without recourse to the oppressive but unifying UN charter, harmony never materializes, leaving the First Hundred completely fragmented and atomized. Every member is thus free to pursue their own particular vision of that elusive new life with equal legitimacy: Frank through his career, Phyllis through her space elevator project, Arkady through his militant rejection of Earth, Hiroko through her religion, Nadia through her engineering work, Ann through her areography, Sax through his terraforming, and so on. In many ways, the emergent Martian colony is a “small-scale model. Easier to understand” (Robinson 1996, 148), of what Theodor Adorno described as “a society whose unity resides in its not being unified” (69).

The most utopian of these projects understands that the “point is not to make another Earth. Not another Alaska or Tibet, not a Vermont nor a Venice, not even an Antarctica. The point is to make something new and strange, something Martian” (Robinson 1994, 2). To see the possibility of reinventing life on Mars as predicated not on reforming [End Page 65] dysfunctional aspects of Earth but on creating a hitherto nonexistent world corresponds very well with what Marx and Engels understood to be at issue in the struggle to overcome the capitalist mode of production: “For us the issue cannot be the alteration of private property but only its annihilation, not the smoothing over of class antagonisms but the abolition of classes, not the improvement of existing society but the foundation of a new one” (1978a, 505). For the concept of the mode of production is far from an economic category; “it is a definite form of activity of these individuals, a definite form of expressing their life, a definite mode of life on their part” (Marx 1978, 150, original emphasis). Mars and Earth ably represent two modes of production, as they are obviously more than economic systems; they are entire worlds, constituting two distinct and definite modes of life.

Revolution is the process for creating this new mode of life, and by their participation in that process, the fragmented First Hundred coalesces into a genuine Martian collective. An interesting feature of the Mars trilogy is that revolution recurs throughout, appearing in each installment, each time taking on a different, more alien, form. In Red Mars, revolution appears in its most recognizable form as a violent revolt led by the vanguard, Arkady Bogdanov and his faction, which has the opposite effect of increasing and intensifying the intransigent Terran presence. In Green Mars, revolution is reconceptualized with a constellation of metaphors borrowed from physical science, agriculture, and economics: “Phase change, integrated pest management, selective disemployment” (1994, 580). Finally, in Blue Mars, revolution takes on a totally unfamiliar form as it is likened to “a choir in counterpoint, singing a great fugue” (1996, 746).

In history as in the trilogy, revolution is not without its defects. Marx, of course, was keenly aware that the revolutionary method he was inheriting from the bourgeois overthrow of feudalism was deeply flawed. For Marx, the coming socialist revolution would bear no re semblance to the foregoing bourgeois revolution. Socialist ideals would still be achieved through revolution but only after the method had undergone a complete and total overhaul. Kojin Karatani explains it in these words:

Marx thought that the socialist revolution would be possible only in the most advanced country, England, because socialism was supposed to be...